Tobold's Blog
Thursday, December 10, 2015
Zeitgeist: The Island at the Axis of the World - Session 06

In the previous session the musketeers of the Royal Homeland Constabulary succeeded to capture the lighthouse on Axis Island and open the sea gate to allow the Risuri navy to invade the fortress. But as it would take the armada ten minutes to arrive, they now needed to hold the lighthouse for that time against the forces of the duchess trying to take it back.

At this point I need to pause the narrative and make a remark about Dungeons & Dragons and similar tabletop role-playing games: They are designed for short combat with a small number of enemies. Ten minutes in D&D is equivalent to 100 combat rounds, and the forces of the duchess were nearly 40 men strong. While one *could* play that out using regular D&D rules, it would just take forever, even if we were playing a different edition of D&D. A hundred combat rounds with a group of several players, each needing to state his action for each combat round, and potentially roll some dice just isn't feasible from a gameplay point of view, even if the story calls for it.

So what we did was to follow the suggestion to play the defense of the lighthouse as a sort of skill challenge, condensing 100 combat rounds into 10 rounds of 1 minute, and using a simplified and more abstract system for combat which didn't require dice rolls. The terrain was split into three locations, the lighthouse, the area outside the lighthouse, and the sea wall. Players and enemies were simply said to be in one of those three locations without specifying exactly where or looking at things like cover or line of sight. Any attack of a player killed one, two, or three enemies, depending on whether they used an at-will, encounter, or daily power. The enemy attacks all did 3 points of damage ranged, 6 points of damage in melee, also without rolling attack dice. In addition to combat the players also had opportunity to do athletics skill checks to build barricades, represented by a d20 counting points of barricades. And the enemies could just remove one point of barricades instead of attacking.

Using that system we managed to do the defense of the lighthouse in less than one hour. Overall the fight was maybe a bit too easy, but that mostly was a result of the players not having raised an alarm in the fortress in the previous session, so they kind of deserved that. The other factor in the player's favor was the story element that I had added to the campaign, having turned the group of constables into a group of musketeers. That resulted in every player having at least one good ranged option, even the character classes that otherwise only had melee powers. So the first wave of 6 enemies was mowed down by fire from 6 muskets, and some of the players continued to use their muskets even after that. The fight ended when after 10 minutes the Risuri armada entered the harbor and chased the remaining troops of the duchess away.

The players were met by Captain Smith on the Impossible, the ship that brought them to the island. He congratulated them of having succeeded in their primary mission, as now the armada should have no problem taking the island back in time to hand it back to Danor and prevent another war. What remained was the secondary missions of bringing the duchess back alive to her brother the king, and finding Nathan Jierre, the cousin of the Danoran ambassador, who had been captured by the duchess. The captain reminded them that while the armada would do the heavy work of getting through the outer and inner fortress walls to the central keep, it was up to the constables to conduct any negotiations with the duchess. They would also have to hand over the island officially to Danor before sunset. Captain Smith also provided the constables with a military escort, one soldier per player, armed with sword and pistol.

While the group waited for the cannons from the armada to break open the outer wall gates, something happened: On another ship on the other side of the harbor there was a commotion, followed by fire and explosion. A single humanoid figure emerged from the ship, setting the fire, and killing everybody standing on his way getting off the boat. A series of perception, history, and arcane checks revealed further information: The humanoid was clearly an eladrin, armed with a fire sword that sometimes transformed into a fire whip, and wielding also a large shield in the shape of a lion's head. The shield could fly from the eladrin and maul an opponent. This description fitted an eladrin warrior who appeared in history books of the first Yerasol war, two hundred years ago, where he had intervened to liberate an eladrin woman from a Danoran general, without being really allied to Risur. The name of that eladrin in the history books was Asrabey Varal, and it was said that he was a Vekeshi Mystic, an assassin for the Unseen Court. Being too far away the group could only watch how Asrabey took some supernatural leaps to the shore, onto a catapult, and from there over the wall into the fortress, killing both loyalist and duchess troops standing in his way.

A while later the armada managed to crack open the outer wall gates, and the troops of the duchess retreated onto the inner wall. A messenger came to the constables alerting them that the troops had found a prison full of Danorans, including a dozen thieflings. Hoping to find Nathan Jierre there, the group went to that prison, while the loyalist troops laid siege to the inner fortress. The Danorans in the prison turned out to be mostly non-combatants, led by a wounded lieutenant, who wasn't in a mood to cooperate. The lieutenant demanded that the Danorans would be freed and armed before talking to the constables. Surprisingly the group agreed to those demands, which mellowed the behavior of the lieutenant. He said that Nathan Jierre wasn't among them, but was presumed to have been captured by the duchess and kept in the inner fortress. The lieutenant also could provide a key for the roof door of the central tower, but had no idea how to easily get onto that roof. He reported that after the duchess had installed herself in that tower, a magical hedge maze had sprung up around it from fey magic. He was also able to tell the group that the invasion by the duchess's troops had come into the fortress via a building that contained a teleportation circle. But that meant that somebody in the fortress was a traitor and had provided the duchess with a magical key to that teleportation circle.

As the loyalist troops were still busy assaulting the inner wall, the constables went and checked out the building with the teleportation circle. Apparently the duchess had set up a defensive mechanism out of gold-lined blades that could cut any eventual Danorans trying to use the same way into the fortress. But recently somebody had destroyed these defenses. The signs of recent fiery destruction, the corpses outside, and the general direction into which Asrabey had headed into the fortress in a straight line towards this building suggested that this was the work of the eladrin.

Suddenly the group saw Asrabey jumping away from the roof of the teleportation circle building, where he had apparently hid on the group's arrival. The eladrin jumped quickly with supernatural steps from roof to roof towards the inner wall, with the constables in slower pursuit. Near the wall Asrabey pulled out a magical globe which exploded in a flash and created a zone in which the reality of this world was "overwritten" by other worlds. The wall was replaced by woodland, with the soldiers standing on the wall suddenly not having anything under their feet any more and falling to their deaths. Parts of other worlds could be seen as well, like the swamp with the blue sun and the purple frogs that the players had seen before. Through the thus created breach in the wall Asrabey sprinted towards the hedge maze. As the reality distortion was visibly starting to shrink, the group decided spontaneously to go after the eladrin and managed to get past the wall before it reformed. At this point we ended the session in front of the hedge maze.


Interesting update, looking forward to the next one.

I agree that combat with a lot of creatures takes forever. How did you decide to do it differently in your campaign? Did you have the idea thought up before hand and the players agreed to it?
The printed adventure contained both options, standard combat or accelerated version. I "proposed" the fast version to my players in a convincing way which was quickly agreed upon.
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